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Land swap a real deal now

Veronica Whitney

At 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Cindy Cohagen was anxiously waiting for the mail. All she needed was one more check to reach the $150,000 needed to complete the Vassar Meadows/Avon land swap.”We got it,” Cohagen said minutes later. “We just got $1,100 in the mail and that puts us $100 over our $150,000 goal.”The Eagle Valley Land Trust had just a couple months to raise the money for the swap, which Cohagen has called a “once in a lifetime opportunity to protect 440 acres in west Avon,” including popular hiking and snowshoeing spots above Singletree.The funds raised by the Land Trust will be added to a combined total of nearly $4.8 million that Vail Resorts, Avon, the Forest Service and the Ritz-Carlton combined for the west Avon hillsides. Vail Resorts is pitching in $3.4 million, the Forest Service $500,000 and Avon and the Ritz-Carlton $300,000 each.About 440 acres will remain open space, and Vail Resorts plans to build approximately 350 affordable housing units on 40 acres of the parcel.The Eagle Valley Land Trust plans to put a conservation easement on the 440 acres, which will be owned by the town of Avon.”This is a true demonstration of community support. This shows how important are contributions of all sizes,” Cohagen said.The land swap includes about 500 acres of private land in Vassar Meadows, south of Eagle on Brush Creek, owned by the Conservation Fund, which would be exchanged for the 480-acre parcel in west Avon, on the north side of Interstate 70, owned by the Forest Service.To close the deal, Avon’s Town Council first has to approve a zoning application for the employee housing that Vail Resorts plans to build, said Bill Efting, Avon’s town manager.”There has to be an approved purpose for the land and Vail Resorts is making sure that they can build the employee housing,” Efting said.Efting said he anticipate on seeing the proposal in the next weeks.Cohagen said the Land Trust got about 250 individual contributions ranging from $25 to $5,000.”We also had tremendous support from the Berry Creek Metro Districtthe Singletree Property Owners Association, the Edwards Metropolitan District and the Arrowhead Metropolitan District,” she added.Cohagen said the Land Trust will keep the fund-raiser for this project active because it still needs another $10,000 to cover the out-of-pocket expenses for the project.Also, the Land Trust will continue to raise funds towards a stewardship fund<an endowment fund. The annual proceeds will be used to monitor the easement.”It becomes our responsibility to protect the conservation values, and this fund will give us the ability to do it every year,” she said.Cohagen said she’d like to raise an initial $10,000 for the stewardship fund.The land has been identified by the Colorado Division of Wildlife as a critical elk winter range. And Wildlife officials says the conservation easement will allow plenty of space for deer and elk.The Conservation Fund, a land-conservation organization, acquired the 509 acres of Vassar Meadows as part of the East and West Brush Creek state park deal two years ago.Vail Resorts made a no-interest, $2 million loan to the Conservation Fund to hold the land until a land swap could be reached and give Vassar Meadows to the Forest Service.The Vassar Meadows parcel is next to the Forest Service’s Yeoman Park campground and the Colorado Division of Parks’ newly created Brush Creek State Park, 18 miles south of Eagle.The Forest Service will now be able to protect wetlands, wildlife habitat, open space and recreational resources at Vassar Meadows.The Eagle Valley Land Trust needs to raise money to establish a stewardship fund to help protect the 440 acres in Avon, once the land swap is done.To contribute, call Cohagan at 926-1913.Veronica Whitney can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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